Nowhere to go

Samar Baruskar was arrested on December 14, 1994, by the Sion police in Bombay for trespassing in a private building. He was looking for a toilet. The small plot of land that the residents of nearby Mangla chawl used as a ground-zero lavatory became the site for a multistoreyed apartment building. Because toilets are in demand every morning, almost every office in the vicinity locks its WCs. On the flip side of desperation lies mortal danger: on January 2 this year, 2 women using the tracks near Kurla station were mowed down by a local train.

This absurdity is not an isolated phenomenon. Mohammad Ibrahim, resident of a JJ colony in South Delhi's Sarai Kale Khan, uses the toilets in the railway coaches parked in the nearby yard and is often caught en flagrante by the railway police.

Palaniammal from Madras (now settled in the Jal Vihar JJ cluster in Delhi) recalls how people from Puruchaithalaivarpakkam were forced to travel 2 km every morning when a temple came up in the open space they used as a collective lavatory.

For the many migrants from Orissa and Bihar in the shanties around dye industries in Panipat, a toilet is a debt trap. In the absence of help from their employers, they cope by pooling resources to buy septic tanks. These tanks are so costly that they have to borrow from the market.

Desperation is even more acute in Calcutta. The city has few open spaces, and entire bustis use roadside drains -- which often run through middle class neighbourhoods -- as lavatories.

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